Reflecting on the History of the Wellspring Baby Boutique

This week, the Wellspring Baby Boutique was honored to receive the Norman F. Chamberlain Community Service Award for 2017 from the Rainier Chamber of Commerce. This Award is presented each year to recognize groups for their service to the Rainier Valley community.

Mr. Chamberlain was a long-time local resident who passed in 2015 at the age of 81. He was a teacher, counselor, and administrator in education and business. He served as CEO of Pioneer Cooperative Affiliation for 15 years. After retirement, Norm worked as a community volunteer. One of his favorite lines was "Life is Love and Love is Service." We are proud to continue that spirit of service here at the Wellspring Baby Boutique.

As we gratefully accept the Chamberlain Award, we wanted to take the opportunity to share a bit about the history of the Wellspring Baby Boutique. For the past 20 years, the Baby Boutique has provided free clothing, baby supplies, and other essentials to thousands of families experiencing homelessness. During the past two years, we have served close to 300 families with children ages 0-18 from the Rainier Valley alone—reaching nearly 600 children. Every December, the Baby Boutique is expanded to include our Holiday Toy Room. In addition to providing basic needs, the Toy Room ensures that all children will have presents for the holidays, despite their circumstances. The Baby Boutique also provides numerous opportunities to engage volunteers, including students from schools in the area and groups from local businesses.

The Baby Boutique started with a VISTA volunteer and a Wellspring staff member who were inspired to fill an obvious need: to provide diapers, clothes, and other supplies for client families with very young children. (The basic idea was not so new: collection and distribution of donated clothing were a big part of Wellspring’s work back in the 1890s.) As Chief Program Development Officer Sandy Lowe recalls, the two Baby Boutique founders “started storing diaper donations for shelters in my office downstairs in the Broderick Building. We then expanded to the open area that had the copier on the first floor of the Broderick Building.” Over the next 11 years, the Baby Boutique moved five times as staff and volunteers worked to find the most possible storage space and shopping space to allow our clients to browse comfortably.

Here is a brief timeline of the Baby Boutique’s location history:

  • 1994: The Baby Boutique is born in the living rooms of Amy McCue and April King
  • Spring, 1995: The Baby Boutique moves to an office in the Broderick Building in Pioneer Square
  • February, 1996: The Baby Boutique moves to the Josephinum Building on Second Avenue in Belltown
  • 1998: The Baby Boutique moves to the El Rey Building still in Belltown
  • Early 2001: The Baby Boutique moves to a large location at Third and Lenora
  • April, 2006: The Baby Boutique moves to the Denny Center.
  • June 2009: The Baby Boutique moves to its current home in the Rotary Support Center for Families at 1900 Rainier Avenue South.

We dug the photos below of the Baby Boutique’s history out of Wellspring’s archives. A few of them are from moving-out and moving-in days. Some show the arrival of diaper drives and other volunteer events. All of them are a testament to the hard work of our staff and volunteers, the generosity of our donors, and the need in our community for clothing and essential items for the families we serve.

To learn how you can contribute to the Baby Boutique, click here.

The very first bags of Baby Boutique donations, in a volunteer’s house in 1994. The toy monkey is a nice touch!

The Baby Boutique storage in an office space in the Broderick Building in Pioneer Square, 1995. 

Baby Boutique signage at the Josephinium Building in Belltown, 1998. The “Homeless Children’s Network” was a way to raise funds for both the Baby Boutique and Morningsong (now the Early Learning Center.)

Volunteers from Boeing fill the racks at the Third & Lenora location around 2001. Volunteers have been central to Baby Boutique operations from the very beginning: to bring donations as individuals or to organize drives; to sort donated items by size and suitability; and to “work the sales floor” while clients choose items for their children.

The Baby Boutique in the Denny Center, 2006.

Crystal Dixon (far left) Wellspring’s dedicated Community Engagement & Administrative Services Manager with longtime volunteers and interns. Crystal managed the Baby Boutique from 2012 to 2016.

The Baby Boutique in its current location on Rainier Avenue South with Tai Powell, Wellspring Baby Boutique Assistant (left) and Darryl Cook, Wellspring Senior Program Director (right).